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Pleural thickening compensation claims

What is pleural thickening?

Pleural thickening is a benign or non-cancerous condition that can be caused by asbestos exposure.  The pleura consists of a two layered protective membrane which surrounds the lungs and inside of the rib cage.  If asbestos fibres are inhaled through the nose or ingested by mouth they can become lodged in the pleura causing thickening and scarring.

If the scarring becomes widespread and covers a large area it can cause the pleura to thicken and this may make it difficult for the lungs to expand.  This can cause breathlessness.  This is known as diffuse pleural thickening.  Pleural thickening can occur in one lung (unilateral) or both lungs (bilateral).

Diffuse pleural thickening is a different condition to pleural plaques which are isolated and discrete areas of thickening.  Doctors believe that pleural plaques only rarely cause symptoms.

What causes pleural thickening?

Pleural thickening can be caused by asbestos exposure.  It is a latent disease which means that it may take many years after the asbestos exposure took place for the symptoms to come to light, typically at least 10 or 15 years or more after exposure, but often much longer.  The pleura is very sensitive and pleural thickening can be caused by low levels of asbestos exposure.

There are other causes of pleural thickening including types of medication, infections, tuberculosis, injuries from an accident, radiotherapy and some types of tumour.

What are the symptoms of pleural thickening?

Pleural thickening can cause discomfort and breathlessness as the lungs struggle to inflate properly.  The symptoms may be more noticeable after physical exertion.  The level of disability can vary, sometimes it is mild or moderate but it can sometimes be severe and debilitating.  Sometimes it can force people to give up their job, especially if they carry out manual employment.

The condition can remain stable but sometimes breathlessness and disability can get worse over time.  Pleural thickening also demonstrates that an individual has been exposed to asbestos and though the condition itself will not turn into another asbestos illness, it shows that the person is at an increased risk.  Individuals who have been exposed to asbestos are at risk of developing other asbestos diseases as well as pleural thickening and can go on to develop asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.  This can be a major source of anxiety to some individuals with pleural thickening and may cause psychological distress.

Is there any treatment for pleural thickening?

Unfortunately, the effects of pleural thickening cannot be reversed and there is no treatment for the condition. The diagnosis is usually made following a chest-ray or CT scan.  The treating doctors may arrange for follow up appointments to check that the condition does not progress and sometimes, respiratory physiotherapy may be offered depending on the circumstances.

Can I claim compensation if I have pleural thickening?

If you have been diagnosed with diffuse pleural thickening then you should seek legal advice about your entitlement to compensation.  It is important to instruct a specialist asbestos solicitor who is experienced in acting for asbestos sufferers.  They will be able to advise you whether you have a possible claim.

If the claim is successful you will recover compensation for the impact that the illness has on your lifestyle and the physical effects it causes you.  This is known as damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity.  You may also be able to claim for out of pocket expenses, any loss of earnings and for care you might receive if you are unwell and need help.  If you are no longer able to do DIY, gardening and other types of domestic tasks then you can claim for loss of your services.  Compensation levels for pleural thickening claims vary considerably depending on the facts of each particular case.

If you have pleural thickening then there is a risk that you may develop another type of asbestos disease.  Therefore, you can choose to settle your claim on a provisional basis.  This means that you preserve the right to come back and apply for more compensation if you develop another asbestos related illness. 

There are time limits for bringing claims for personal injury such as asbestos diseases.  Therefore, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. 

Am I entitled to benefits?

If you have been diagnosed with pleural thickening then you may be entitled to state benefits.  Specifically, you are entitled to apply for a weekly payment called Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.  If this is awarded then you might also be entitled to receive a lump sum payment from the government under the Pneumoconiosis etc (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979.  It is important to seek advice regarding your potential entitlements.

What if I have pleural plaques?

If you have pleural plaques and you were exposed to asbestos in England or Wales then you will not be entitled to bring a claim.  Insurance companies brought a test case to stop claims for pleural plaques and following a court decision in 2007, it is no longer possible to recover compensation for this condition.  However, if you were exposed to asbestos in Scotland or Northern Ireland then you may be entitled to make a claim because the court decision was over-ruled by legislation in these countries.

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